Forgive the Alexandr not being used....
Published as Avgust chetyrnadtsatogo in Paris in 1971 and translated by Michael Glenny in 1972:
From Chapter 24
. .General Hermann von François, however, was a man who would have preferred death to dishonour. He was descended from a family of Huguenot refugees who did not look upon Germany, which had sheltered them, as a mere temporary asylum. The François were used to acknowledging only one country as their homeland, and they served it faithfully; as a result, von François’s great-grandfather was raised to the German nobility at a time when noblemen in France were being guillotined. His father, also a general, when mortally wounded by the French in 1870, exclaimed: “I am happy to die at this moment, for Germany is victorious.”
. .When von François took over his command in East Prussia in 1913, he found that it had been given orders, in case of war, to adopt the system of “yielding defence,” which meant conducting a fighting withdrawal in the face of a numerically superior enemy. In his view, however, this was a wrong interpretation of von Schlieffen’s plan. The adoption of a general defensive posture on the Eastern Front, until the main German forces should be released from the west, by no means implied that every sector had to employ the tactics of withdrawal. Comparing the German and Russian national characters, von François considered that speed and aggressiveness were essential qualities of the German soldier and of his military training, whereas the Russian temperament was distinguished by such features as a disinclination to work methodically, lack of a sense of duty, fear of responsibility, and a total inability to appreciate the value of time and to make proper use of it. Hence the typical traits of the Russian generals, which were sluggishness, a tendency to work on set lines, and a predilection for inaction and comfort. Therefore, von François decided that in Prussia his tactics would be to use offence as a means of defence, and that wherever the Russians appeared, he would attack first.
. .When the Great War began (great, that is, for Germany; great too, for von François and long-awaited, for now was his only chance to show that he was the outstanding general in Germany, perhaps in all Europe), he counted on exploiting the speed of the German mobilisation; as soon as his corps was in a state of full readiness, he would cross the frontier and attack Rennenkampf’s units as they converged during the far-slower preparatory phase. But now occurred an instance of how even the German army was unable to accept or acknowledge a dynamic talent. Von Prittwitz vetoed von François’s plan with the pronouncement: “We must reconcile ourselves to sacrificing part of this province.” Von François could not agree: against orders, he engaged the enemy at Stallupönen, a battle which he considered he had won; but in the heat of the action a car drove up with orders from von Prittwitz: disengage and retire to Gumbinnen. Army Headquarters might have its plans, but the corps commander had his own, and von François replied to the messenger in a loud voice, in the presence of his officers: “Inform General von Prittwitz that General von François will stop fighting when the Russians are beaten!” Alas, they were not beaten, and his own chief of staff informed on him to Army Headquarters. That evening von François was called upon to explain himself, and von Prittwitz reported his insubordination directly to the Kaiser. Von François also complained directly to the Kaiser that he would not continue fighting unless his present chief of staff was removed. This was taking a risk, as the Kaiser could well have lost his temper and himself relieved von François of his command, especially since he had already received frequent complaints about him and by now regarded him as a general of “excessively independent character.” On the other hand, to have tolerated the presence of a hostile chief of staff would hardly have been the mark of an outstanding commander.
. .However much he might deny the fact or suppress it, there was still something of the turbulent Frenchman in von François.
. .So long as he was out of reach of his superiors, von François felt compelled to insure that his actions would be truly weighed in the scales of justice. Every step he took, every engagement in which he was involved, had to be explained and justified both to history and to his own descendents; if he did not take care of this himself, who would? Unusually agile and energetic for his age, he was a man who fought his battles with élan and flair; he would climb up into belfries for observation, supervise the unloading of shells under fire (although they would probably have been unloaded well enough without his help), and visit every part of the battlefield by car to insure that his orders were being carried out, sometimes going for a whole day sustained by nothing but a cup of cocoa (this was for the benefit of his memoirs; he did not record the number of steaks he ate). Often sleeping no more than a two or three hours a night. Von François made quite sure that each of his decisions was triply recorded and commented upon: in the orders sent down to lower formations; in his reports to his superiors; and in a very detailed account prepared for the military archives (which would also be of use, if he survived, in the book he himself intended to write). In this detailed account he entered not only his actions but his intentions, which he was not always allowed to carry out as he would have wished. Before battle, he would write up his notes himself, and when the fighting began, he was permanently accompanied in one of his two cars by a special aide-de-camp―his son, a lieutenant―who kept the general’s war diary and recorded all his father’s remarks on the spot.
. .Thus he ensured that the record of his conduct was always presented in his own words, believing that no one could do it better than he. He was at pains to make it clear when he was simply taking the line of least resistance and following orders to the letter, when he felt bound by a sense of responsibility higher than mere obedience, and when he had the strength of will to overcome the fear of failure and, against all the advice of weaker spirits, to follow his own hunches.
. .Another dispute with von Prittwitz occurred during the Battle of Gumbinnen. From its earliest stages, von François regarded this battle as a major success—an assessment which he reported to von Prittwitz, who in turn passed it to Supreme Headquarters. Von François attacked vigorously, outflanked Rennenkampf (although his critics claim that he attacked Rennenkampf head-on, having misunderstood the disposition of the Russian forces), took a great number of prisoners, and gave orders that evening that his corps was to go into the attack again the following day. It was then that he received the order from von Prittwitz to disengage in silence that night and to retire, along with all the other army corps, beyond the Vistula.
. .This was intolerable: at one stroke to have to lose everything his ability had gained that day, just because the neighbouring corps commander, von Mackensen, had fought badly; to have to abandon, too, the victory which his sixth sense told him he would win tomorrow; finally, knowing perfectly well that what he had done was right, to be made to cancel his own well-considered orders and to submit to other orders which he regarded as unsound!
. .But that is the army. Still buoyed up by the martial enthusiasm bred of success, von François had to quit the field of his victory and transfer his corps by railway, through Königsberg, in a long “castling” move right across the board.
. .That was the army; but that it was the German army was demonstrated by something else which occurred: on the following day, after furious efforts by the chief of signals to track down von François’s whereabouts, his tiny command post in distant East Prussia was connected with Koblenz, and His Majesty the Kaiser personally asked the general for his view of the situation, and whether he regarded the redeployment of his corps as correct.
. .This was a great honour for a corps commander (and an obvious slight to the army commander). But with his agile mind, von François did not stand on his dignity and insist that he had been right the day before: what might have been correct yesterday was not necessarily so today. As Napoleon said, a general will never be a great commander if he cannot see beyond his own map board. Once begun, the withdrawal should be carried out to its conclusion. Now that they had disengaged from the army of the Niemen, he looked forward to demonstrating his unique talents against the army of the Narev.
. .It was then that somewhere, imperceptibly, amid the to-and-fro of telephone conversations, special trains, and discussions between the newly appointed commanders at their headquarters (they all knew each other already; von François had once been Hindenburg’s chief of staff when the latter was a corps commander, and at an earlier stage he had also served with Ludendorff), there was born the idea that the army of the Narev should be dealt with by a double encircling movement. Each of the three generals regarded himself as the author of the plan; the task of convincing history that he had thought of it first still lay ahead.
. .On the evening of August 11 (just as Vorotyntsev reached Samsonov’s sleepy headquarters in Ostrolenka), General von François was sitting in the Hotel Kronprinz, close to the spot where the first units of his corps were detraining opposite Samsonov’s left flank, and writing the following order of the day to the men of his army corps: “. . . the brilliant victories achieved by our corps at Stallupönen and Gumbinnen have caused the high command to transfer you, soldiers of I Army Corps, by rail to a position in which you may do battle, with your customary invincible bravery, against the new enemy coming from Russian Poland. When we have destroyed this opponent, we shall return to our previous position and settle accounts with those other Russian hordes who, in defiance of international law, are burning the towns and villages of our homeland . . .”
Note that some of his characters are real, and some fictitious:
Historical Figures    
Hermann von François    
Paul von Rennenkampf    
Maximillian von Prittwitz    
Alexandr Samsonov    
Paul von Hindenburg    
Erich Ludendorff    
Alfred von Schlieffen    
August von Mackensen    
Fictional Characters